Iiona Virgin is a senior in the Human Services Leadership online program. She currently lives in Madison, Wis. with her husband and three children. She took a roundabout way to get to the degree program she is in. Virgin was told about this program after realizing that she wanted to be a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Social Worker after her youngest child spent her first 5 1/2 weeks in St. Mary’s NICU.
She is currently on the board of South West (Madison) Community Organizing Committee, is a grassroots organizer and is very involved in her community. When Virgin is not working, studying, transporting, volunteering, planning, in meetings, taking notes, typing notes… she can be found curled up with a good book, with a camera in-hand or out completing her family’s Wisconsin Bucket List.
The first two weeks of my internship went by quicker than I imagined they would have. The beginning of my second week was filled with our first ever House Meeting! I was excited and nervous all in the same breath. I was more worried that I would forget something that was needed for the meeting than anything else. My sheer excitement and maybe some sleepless nights turned into a cold. I could feel it coming on over the weekend and did everything in my power to stay cold free, how much power is that really? Not much.
The morning of the meeting I woke up with a horrible headache and cold symptoms. I instantly started to panic. I was going over everything that needed to be done because it was JUST my supervisor and I that were going to be running this meeting. I downed some medication, emailed my supervisor to let her know how I felt and then headed into the office to check-in. After a small nap I was up, refreshed and ready to go! I was responsible for bringing almost everything to the meeting, besides the neighborhood map, and went about gathering everything and headed to the house.
Has anyone else ever had something of this sort happen to them? What did you end up doing?
My nervousness for the meeting was not necessary because it was so much more than I could have imagined. I do not know if anyone has ever experienced a meeting where everyone is happy to be there and the room is full of energy, if so this meeting was one of those meetings. When I got there all the children were very helpful with bringing items into the house. While someone in the house set things up and out (food), my supervisor was there talking and getting to know those that had joined us. We had five adults attend the meeting and offered big ideas and dreams to them. We met for a hour and a half and the list of things we were able to get through was absolutely amazing. Some of the things that we talked about were the exact same things that had been talked about at previous meetings held at the school with different groups of people, and at the first community supper in December.
When you give people a voice and the freedom to dream as big as they can, what they see is really no different from what the greater community sees. The only difference between the groups is the amount of financial resources they have access to.
Overall the meeting went great, we were able to hear what they thought their strengths and weaknesses were of their neighborhood as well as their dreams and visions. One of the main reasons we had started this process was because last summer two young girls were involved in a motorist versus bicycle accident. The initial meetings that we had after the accident were focused on traffic safety which is the same topic that we addressed in this meeting. The adults were very much interested in different traffic calming ideas, the first one being speed bumps. After we gave them more information about the ways the city can and has responded to traffic issues, everything changed. One idea thought of was closing off one end of the street and possibly having the greenway filled with youth-run gardens and maybe even a spray park. All I can say is I am still on a high from that meeting and we have started moving forward to have other meetings in that area.
We have a house meeting scheduled for Monday, Feb. 27 for Theresa Terrace with the intent of the residents inviting more people from the block. I am meeting with my supervisor Kim and a traffic safety specialist Lisa today to discuss the first house meeting and figure out what day (before the end of March) the house meeting for Hammersley Road will happen. We have one block down and six more to go. I am looking forward to seeing how this process will go and hoping we will see more progress and excitement with the next meetings.